The Military Might of Assyria - History


Assyria A Military Juggenaught

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The Assyrians were tough and uncompromising and practice “zero tolerance” against their enemies. They subjugated their enemies through the threat of extreme violence.


In the Old Assyrian Period merchants created the wealth of Assyria but during the Middle Assyrian Age Assyrian was financed by booty and payments from annexed vassal states.


The expansion of Assyria was undertaken by the military and as Assyrian expansion increased so the military become to dominate Assyrian culture. During the Middle Assyrian Age armies were raised from the Assyrian population. Any adult Assyrian male could be conscripted into the army and annual army service was a key component of the Tax obligations attached to the tenure of land. Military campaigns were only fought in the summer after the harvest had been brought in.


The Neo-Assyrians brought Assyrian warfare to a new level by developing new battle field control tactics and weapons. They created a standing professional army and all state offices were designated as military posts. This allowed the Neo-Assyrians to go to war whenever they wished.


Assyrian society took on a strong marshall element and Assyrian culture was almost defined by its military purpose. All elements of society were developed to support the military. Kings were also active in the military and usually fought in campaigns from the front, which led to Sargon II being killed in action.


Assyrian attention to detailed analysis of battle tactics was almost turned into a science. The Assyrians army was very well equipped and used advanced technology to develop weapons that gave them an advantage over most of their enemies. They also copied the best weapons their foes used. Sennacherib, 704 - 681 BC, introduced the slingshot into his army as he had seen how effective it was when used against him in a battle in Judah.


Assyrian relief panels show the type of siege machines the Assyrians developed. One illustration shows a covered a covered siege machine on wheels. Rods stick out of the front which would have been used to dig away the mud bricks used in the walls of the ancient cities of Mesopotamia. The machine was moved by men who were protected from arrows and borders projected at them from the walls of the defending city.


The assyrians had to be clever at breaking sieges because the Assyrians most powerful weapon was the fear they inflicted on their foes.


As Assyria was not a maritime state it had to rely upon mercenary sailors, primarily Phoenicians, to be able to invade island or undertake sea battles. The Phoenicians were also able to transport the army longer distances by sea that arduous land journeys would have allowed.


Assyrian Brutality


The Assyrians strongest military tactic was psychological, it was their reputation for the brutality they inflicted on their enemies.


The Assyrian army would approach an enemy area with an overwhelming force. If the city did not surrender surrounding villages would be attacked first. The unfortunate villagers would be tortured, raped, flayed and their bodies hung up outside the city walls to demonstrate to the defenders what fate awaited them if they did not surrender.


If a King surrendered he would retain his local kingship but his land would become an Assyrian province and he would become an Assyrian vassal governor. The people would be allowed to keep their traditions and Gods and as long as they did not rebel and paid tribute.


The alternative was bleak. If a vassal rebelled or a city state refused surrender and become an Assyrian vassals then its inhabitants would be slaughtered. This Assyrian inscription describe how captured Kings were tortured and flayed, their skins being nailed to the city walls. Their women and wives would have been raped and along with their children they were killed. Nobles of the city would have been beheaded and their bodies hung outside the city wall.


Finally the statues of the Gods the city worshipped would be removed from the temples and taken back to Assyria. This last action effectively destroyed the heart of a community at whose centre was the God that protected it. They believed that their Gods were embodied in their statues and therefore when his statue was taken by the Assyrians his protection had been taken from them.


After cities were sacked the Assyrians burnt down the building, salted the fields so they would not grow crops and cut down any trees and orchards. Asa final insult any survivors were then forced to pay a yearly tribute to the Assyrians.


Mass Deportations


During the reign of Shalmaneser I, I274 - 1245 BC in the Middle Assyrian period, the first mass deportations by Assyrians was reported. This tactic was used to make sure an area could not rebel again. This tactic was used by Tukulti-Ninurta I, 1244 - 1208 BC deported people from southern Assyria to work on projects in the Assyrian homeland.


The Neo-Assyrians used mass deportation to punish rebellious populations as standard practice. Assyrian diplomats use mass deportation as a veiled threat to subdue potential enemies.


The level of deportations the under Assyrian rule was staggering. It is estimated that during the last 300 years of the Assyrian Empire approximately 4.5 million people were forcefully deported from their homelands. Some scholars attribute the extensive spread of the Aramaic language to the massive population movements during this period, so replacing Akkadian as the common language of the ancient Middle East.


Deportees were sent to rebuild town that the Assyrians had sacked or sent to work on the great building programs of the Neo-Assyrian period.


Loyalty Oaths


The assyrians never wavered in their policy of brutality which made it very clear to those considering rebellion or war against the Assyrians what the result of failure would bring.


To make sure new vassal kings had not missed the point the Assyrian made vassals sign Loyalty Oaths. The oath set out what the Assyrians expected from their vassals and documented in graphic detail what the Assyrians would do to them if they broke their oath. Very few Assyrian vassal state were powerful enough to negotiate the terms of these loyalty oaths but on the odd occasion this happened an agreement was bound by blood. To break a blood oath meant that the wrath of the Assyrian army would descend on the violator and no quarter would be shown.


Part of a treaty between Esarhadden and a Vassal reads: ”This is the treaty which Esarhadden, King of Assyria, has established with you before the great gods of heaven and earth. On behalf of the Crown Prince Designate Ashurbanipal, the son of your lord Esarhaddon King of Assyria who has designated and appointed him for succession, if you do not the Crown Prince Designate Ashurbanipal whom Esarhaddon, King of Assyria, has presented to you when ordered you to serve on behalf of whom he has made this binding treaty with you, if you sin against him. lift your hands with evil intent against him, set a foot of rebellion or wrong or evil plans against him, if you remove him from the Kingship of Assyria and help one of his brothers, younger or older, to take the throne of Assyria in his stead and instal another King, another lord over yourselves and swear to the oath of loyalty to another King or lord, just as this oil enters your flesh so may they make this oil enter your flesh, the flesh of your brothers, your sons, and daughters, just as one cuts off the hands and feet and blinds the eyes of those who blaspheme against the God or the Lord, so may they bring about your end. May they make you sway like a marsh reed, may they tear you out like blood from the bandage of the enemy. May they slaughter you, your women, your brothers, your sons and daughters like kids. Just as the squeak produced by this door pivot so may you, your women, your brothers, your sons and daughters never rest nor sleep not even your bones should stay together”. The taker of this grim oath would have been very well aware that its words were not empty threats and equally aware of the many oath breakers who had suffered the fate laid down in the oath in the past.


The Assyrian policy of extreme retribution was unlikely to have been exclusive to them and was probably the tactic was used by all the waring fractions of that era. History has singled out the Assyrians only because they graphically boasted of their action in the relief panels on their palace walls, in building inscriptions and in documents in their archives. Because they found that the threat of brutality was a very effective weapon, the more they advertised the levels they would go to the more powerful was the psychological effect on their enemies. Assyrian panels lining the walls of their palaces show visiting dignitaries in graphic detail whom they are dealing with and what they are capable of. A powerful weapon indeed.


We seem shocked about the level of brutality the Assyrians inflicted as if it was unique to them. Their approach was exactly the same as tactics used by the Romans, Genghis Khan, Charlemagne, the crusaders, Medieval Kings, the Ottomans the Arab and so on and so on until the Geneva Convention in 1949 tried stopped civilians being targets. It had failed miserably and civilians are still being targeted today, 4000 years on.




Ancient Warfare : Assyrian Empire and Macedonian Army

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Assyrian history In the Begining Sam'al Hittite Artefacts Relief Sculptures History of the Old Assyrian Kingdom History of the Middle Assyrian Kingdom History of the Neo-Assyrians History of Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal-II History of Assyrian King Sargon II History of Assyrian King Senacherib & Nineveh History of Assyrian Warefare & Military Army History of Assyrian Warefare & Military Army History of the downfall of the Assyrian Empire History of the Assyrian Palace at Ninevah, Kalha History of the Assyrian Palace at Dur Sharrukin History of the Assyrian Palace at Neneveh




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